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The concept of sustainable development from 1980 to the present has evolved into definitions of the three pillars of sustainability (social, economic and environmental). The recent economic and financial crisis has helped to newly define economic sustainability. It has brought into focus the economic pillar and cast a question mark over the sustainability of development based on economic progress. This means fully addressing the economic issues on their own merits with no apparent connection to the environmental aspects. Environmental sustainability is correctly defined by focusing on its biogeophysical aspects. This means maintaining or improving the integrity of the Earth's life supporting systems. The concept of sustainable development and its three pillars has evolved from a rather vague and mostly qualitative notion to more precise specifications defined many times over in quantitative terms. Hence the need for a wide array of indicators is very clear. The paper analyses the different approaches and types of indicators developed which are used for the assessment of environmental sustainability. One important aspect here is setting targets and then “measuring” the distance to a target to get the appropriate information on the current state or trend.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
Contents
lists
available
at
ScienceDirect
Ecological
Indicators
jo
ur
n
al
homep
ag
e:
www.elsevier.com/locate/ecolind
How
to
understand
and
measure
environmental
sustainability:
Indicators
and
targets
Bedˇ
rich
Moldan,
Svatava
Janouˇ
sková,
Tomáˇ
s
Hák
Charles
University
Environment
Center,
J.Martiho
2/407,
162
00
Praha
6,
Czech
Republic
a
r
t
i
c
l
e
i
n
f
o
Article
history:
Received
26
November
2009
Received
in
revised
form
26
January
2011
Keywords:
Sustainable
development
indicators
Environmental
sustainability
Performance
indicators
Target
setting
Proximity
to
target
assessment
a
b
s
t
r
a
c
t
The
concept
of
sustainable
development
from
1980
to
the
present
has
evolved
into
definitions
of
the
three
pillars
of
sustainability
(social,
economic
and
environmental).
The
recent
economic
and
financial
crisis
has
helped
to
newly
define
economic
sustainability.
It
has
brought
into
focus
the
economic
pillar
and
cast
a
question
mark
over
the
sustainability
of
development
based
on
economic
progress.
This
means
fully
addressing
the
economic
issues
on
their
own
merits
with
no
apparent
connection
to
the
environmental
aspects.
Environmental
sustainability
is
correctly
defined
by
focusing
on
its
biogeophysical
aspects.
This
means
maintaining
or
improving
the
integrity
of
the
Earth’s
life
supporting
systems.
The
concept
of
sustainable
development
and
its
three
pillars
has
evolved
from
a
rather
vague
and
mostly
qualitative
notion
to
more
precise
specifications
defined
many
times
over
in
quantitative
terms.
Hence
the
need
for
a
wide
array
of
indicators
is
very
clear.
The
paper
analyses
the
different
approaches
and
types
of
indicators
developed
which
are
used
for
the
assessment
of
environmental
sustainability.
One
important
aspect
here
is
setting
targets
and
then
“measuring”
the
distance
to
a
target
to
get
the
appropriate
information
on
the
current
state
or
trend.
©
2011
Elsevier
Ltd.
All
rights
reserved.
1.
Sustainable
development
The
term
“sustainable
development”
was
coined
by
the
IUCNˇ
ıs
1980
World
Conservation
Strategy
(IUCN,
UNEP
and
WWF,
1980).
It
stated
that
“for
development
to
be
sustainable
it
must
take
account
of
social
and
ecological
factors,
as
well
as
economic
ones”.
Our
Common
Future
(Brundtland
Report)
(WCED,
1987)
then
gave
further
direction
to
comprehensive
global
solutions.
It
defined
sus-
tainable
development
as
development
which
“meets
the
needs
of
the
present
generation
without
compromising
the
ability
of
future
generations
to
meet
their
own
needs”.
This
has
since
become
an
often-quoted
definition.
The
definition
was
extended
by
the
Earth
Summit
in
1992
(UN,
1992a).
It
produced
the
40
chapters
(150,000+
words)
for
Agenda
21.
The
formalization
was
completed
by
the
World
Summit
on
Sustainable
Development
in
2002
(UN,
2002)
with
the
notion
of
the
three
pillars
social,
environmental,
economic
as
symbolized
by
the
summit
motto
“People,
Planet,
Prosperity”.
At
present,
the
term
itself
and
its
tenor
have
become
so
widespread
and
well-known
that
we
may
take
it
as
common
sense.
Moreover,
it
is
inevitably
incorporated
into
any
important
political,
business,
or
other
strategic
document
(e.g.
most
of
the
fundamen-
Corresponding
author.
Tel.:
+420
220
199
460;
fax:
+420
220
199
462.
E-mail
addresses:
bedrich.moldan@czp.cuni.cz
(B.
Moldan),
svatava.janouskova@czp.cuni.cz
(S.
Janouˇ
sková),
tomas.hak@czp.cuni.cz
(T.
Hák).
tal
documents
of
the
European
Union,
including
the
recent
Lisbon
Treaty
(EU,
2007).
Needless
to
say,
in
cited
documents
as
well
as
in
many
oth-
ers
(e.g.
see
Bell
and
Morse,
1999),
the
meaning
of
sustainable
development
and
sustainability
is
not
identical,
even
though
the
fundamental
sense
is
basically
the
same.
While
sustainability
denotes
a
system
property
referred
to
as
quality,
we
believe
that
the
key
to
the
sustainable
development
concept
is
provided
by
the
already
quoted
Brundtland
definition
and
Article
1
of
the
Rio
Decla-
ration
(UNCED,
1992):
“Human
beings
are
at
the
centre
of
concerns
for
sustainable
development.
They
are
entitled
to
a
healthy
and
productive
life
in
harmony
with
nature”.
The
message
of
these
two
fundamental
documents
could
be
summarized
in
three
brief
points.
Firstly,
the
idea
of
sustainable
development
is
a
pragmatic
and
anthropocentric
one.
It
primarily
focuses
on
people
and
their
well-
being.
At
the
base
of
sustainability
are
our
needs.
One
approach,
known
as
Maslow’s
Pyramid,
assumes
that
human
beings
are
motivated
by
unsatisfied
needs.
Certain
basic
needs
must
be
ful-
filled
before
higher
needs
can
be
satisfied
(Maslow,
1968,
1999).
According
to
Maslow,
there
are
universal
needs
(physiological,
survival,
safety,
love,
and
esteem)
that
must
be
fulfilled
before
a
person
can
act
unselfishly.
This
foundation
for
unselfish
behav-
ior
could
certainly
then
be
seen
as
one
of
the
conditions
for
accomplishing
sustainable
development.
We
would
agree
with
the
essential
elements
of
human
well-being
stipulated
in
the
Millennium
Ecosystem
Assessment
(2005).
These
were
security,
1470-160X/$
see
front
matter
©
2011
Elsevier
Ltd.
All
rights
reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2011.04.033
B.
Moldan
et
al.
/
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
5
the
basic
material
for
a
good
life,
health,
good
social
relations,
and
freedom
of
choice
and
action.
Secondly,
human
life
should
be
“healthy,
productive
and
in
harmony
with
nature”.
This
principle
implies
a
quest
for
balance
among
the
three
sustainable
development
pillars.
Human
life
is
nei-
ther
independent
nor
isolated;
it
is
part
of
a
complex
web
of
natural
and
social
phenomena
and
depends
on
a
myriad
of
relationships
and
interdependencies.
In
particular,
the
necessary
“harmony
with
nature”,
which
addresses
the
environmental
pillar,
is
stressed.
Thirdly,
another
essential
feature
of
sustainability
is
dynamic
and
long-term
nature.
The
formulation
takes
into
account
“present
and
future
generations”
and
simultaneously
points
out
the
chang-
ing
situation
and
emphasizes
concerns
for
the
future
without
any
explicit
time
limit
or
target.
The
time
dimension
is
tied
to
the
aver-
age
human
life
and
emphasizes
a
necessary
extension
possibly
a
very
long
extension
– above
and
beyond
it.
These
three
simple
principles
apply
to
all
three
pillars.
The
rather
broadly
defined
notion
of
sustainability
was
his-
torically
understood
as
mostly
environmental
sustainability,
as
evinced
by
the
already
quoted
World
Conservation
Strategy
(IUCN,
UNEP
and
WWF,
1980).
The
strategy
believed
that
humans
must
recognize
the
world’s
nature
resources
as
finite,
with
limited
capac-
ities
to
support
life.
The
objective,
then,
is
to
conserve
natural
resources
to
ensure
continued
development
and
to
support
all
life.
Even
recently,
the
European
Union’s
Gothenburg
Sustainable
Development
Strategy
approved
in
2001
and
the
renewed
version
endorsed
again
in
2006,
placed
four
out
of
its
six
main
objectives
more
or
less
within
the
environmental
realm:
climate
change
and
clean
energy,
sustainable
transport,
sustainable
consumption
and
production,
conservation
and
management
of
natural
resources,
and
public
health.
The
other
two
pertained
to
social
inclusion:
demography
and
migration,
and
global
poverty
and
sustainable
development
challenges
(EU,
2006).
1.1.
Economic
sustainability
Gradually,
however,
the
other
two
pillars
have
been
discussed
more
thoroughly.
The
economists
focus
on
various
kinds
of
“cap-
ital”
(man-made,
natural,
human,
social)
that
should
be
sustained
(World
Bank,
2006).
Another
approach
is
based
on
the
Goodland-
Ledec
specification
of
sustainable
development
(Goodland
and
Ledec,
1987).
Sustainable
development
means
the
use
of
renewable
natural
resources
in
a
manner
that
does
not
eliminate
or
degrade
them
or
otherwise
diminish
their
usefulness
for
future
generations.
Furthermore,
it
implies
using
non-renewable
(exhaustible)
mineral
resources
in
a
way
which
does
not
unnecessarily
preclude
easy
access
to
them
by
future
generations.
Finally,
it
requires
a
suffi-
ciently
slow-rate
of
depletion
of
non-renewable
energy
resources
to
ensure
the
high
probability
of
an
orderly
societal
transition
to
renewable
ones.
This
definition
focuses
primarily
on
the
physical
aspects
of
sustainable
development.
Other
approaches
focusing
on
optimal
resource
management,
propose,
for
example,
the
defini-
tion
by
Markandya
and
Pearce
(1988).
According
to
this
definition,
sustainability
might
be
redefined
so
that
the
use
of
resources
today
should
not
reduce
real
incomes
in
the
future
because
sustainabil-
ity
requires
that
the
conditions
necessary
for
equal
access
to
the
resource
base
be
met
for
each
subsequent
generation.
Or
“Natural
resources
and
the
environment
constitute
the
ultimate
foundation
upon
which
all
future
economic
activity
must
be
construed.
From
this,
it
follows
that
future
economic
progress
will
be
increasingly
dependent
on
the
sustained
integrity
of
the
resource
and
environ-
mental
base.”
(Hamrin,
1983).
Recently,
well-being
has
been
recognized
as
a
pivotal
notion
in
the
context
of
sustainable
development.
Well-being
is
under-
stood
as
any
act
of
consumption
which
includes
the
enjoyment
of
any
goods
or
services.
Goods
and
services
can
include
things
freely
provided
by
nature,
such
as
a
beautiful
sunset.
Sustainable
devel-
opment
means
increasing
“consumption”,
following
its
broadest
economic
interpretation,
over
a
very
long
time
(OECD,
2008a).
Given
the
current
financial
and
economic
crisis,
the
economic
aspects
of
development
are
under
close
scrutiny.
The
economic
cri-
sis
shows
that
maintaining
economic
growth
is
an
essential
and
universally
accepted
objective
for
the
broad
public.
It
should
be
noted
that
growth
has
been
the
most
important
policy
goal
across
the
world
for
the
last
five
decades.
It
is
the
reason
why
it
has
been
difficult
to
find
a
balance
between
sustainability
and
the
economic
growth
of
countries.
Hopefully,
the
economic
crisis
could
be
an
example
of
how
to
change
the
approach
to
economic
growth
and
how
to
conceive
of
a
new
economy
in
terms
of
sustainable
develop-
ment.
An
example
of
such
an
approach
may
be
the
study
“Prosperity
without
growth?”
by
Tim
Jackson
(2009)
or
“Managing
Without
Growth”
by
Peter
A.
Victor
(2008).
The
importance
of
economic
sustainability
is
now
increasingly
recognized
even
by
top
political
representatives.
The
U.S.
President
B.
Obama
has
stated
recently:
“It
is
simply
not
sustainable
to
have
an
economy
where,
in
one
year,
40
per
cent
of
our
corporate
prof-
its
came
from
a
financial
sector
that
was
based
on
inflated
home
prices,
maxed-out
credit
cards,
over-leveraged
banks
and
overval-
ued
assets.”
(Klein,
2009).
The
current
global
economic
crisis
thus
brought
into
focus
the
economic
pillar
and
questioned
the
sustain-
ability
of
development
based
on
economic
progress.
This
means
fully
addressing
the
economic
issues
on
their
own
merits
and
in
no
apparent
connection
with
the
environmental
aspects.
1.2.
Social
sustainability
The
approaches
to
the
social
dimension
of
sustainable
devel-
opment
are
as
diverse
as
the
approaches
to
the
economic
pillar.
As
mentioned
by
Martin,
a
specific
definition
of
the
social
dimen-
sion
of
sustainable
development
is
less
clear-cut
(Martin,
2001).
Understandably,
the
diversity
of
economic,
social
and
cultural
con-
ditions
in
individual
countries
makes
development
of
a
uniform
definition
of
social
sustainability
very
difficult.
Black
defined
social
sustainability
as
“the
extent
to
which
social
values,
social
identities,
social
relationships
and
social
institutions
can
continue
into
the
future”
(Black,
2004).
Torjman
characterizes
social
sustainability
as
follows:
“From
a
social
perspective
in
particular,
human
well-
being
cannot
be
sustained
without
a
healthy
environment
and
is
equally
unlikely
in
the
absence
of
a
vibrant
economy”
(Torjman,
2000).
Gilbert
et
al.
perceive
the
social
pillar
of
sustainable
devel-
opment
as
follows:
“Social
sustainability
requires
that
the
cohesion
of
society
and
its
ability
to
work
towards
common
goals
be
main-
tained.
Individual
needs,
such
as
those
of
health
and
well-being,
nutrition,
shelter,
education
and
cultural
expression
should
be
met”
(Gilbert,
1996).
However,
these
and
other
definitions
are
more
or
less
state-
ments
of
the
general
goals
of
social
policy
rather
than
serious
attempts
to
define
the
social
dimension
of
sustainable
develop-
ment,
as
noted
by
Colantonio
(2007).
And
yet,
it
is
precisely
the
social
“pillar”
of
sustainable
development
that
is
probably
the
most
important
and
critical
for
the
long-term
survival
of
human
civi-
lizations
as
shown
in
Jared
Diamond’s
insightful
study
of
past
(and
contemporary)
societies
(Diamond,
2005).
Another
somewhat
indi-
rect
basis
for
this
view
is
the
finding
of
the
authors
of
The
Wealth
of
Nations
(World
Bank,
2006
see
below)
that
human
and
social
capital
is
the
most
important
component
of
national
wealth.
Despite
this
recognition,
it
is
not
yet
fully
clear
what
the
crit-
ical
elements
of
social
unsustainability
are.
Is
it
growing,
or
at
least
not
diminishing,
inequality
among
people,
regions
or
nations?
Is
it
good
health
in
a
broad
sense?
What
does
this
imply
about
the
sustainability
of
health
care
systems?
Is
it
the
malfunction-
ing
of
national
institutions
as
documented
by
the
Failed
States
6
B.
Moldan
et
al.
/
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
Index
(Foreign
Policy,
2009)?
According
to
that
document,
are
we
to
say
that
Somalia,
Sudan
or
Zimbabwe
are
not
sustainable
countries?
1.3.
Environmental
sustainability
Sustainable
development
used
to
be
more
or
less
understood
as
social
and
economic
development
that
should
be
environmentally
sustainable.
Since
the
“three
pillars”
concept
was
introduced,
it
has
gradually
been
acknowledged
that
economic
and
social
sustainabil-
ity
do
indeed
have
their
own
merits,
as
well
as
specific
and
concrete
meaning
as
a
part
of
human,
social,
political
or
economic
devel-
opment.
In
light
of
such
understanding,
it
is
necessary
to
closely
scrutinize
the
third
pillar
to
focus
on
the
definition
of
environ-
mental
sustainability
and
ask
for
a
full
clarification
of
its
precise
meaning.
The
term
itself
was
probably
first
coined
by
scientists
at
the
World
Bank.
Originally,
the
term
“environmentally
responsible
development”
was
used
(World
Bank,
1992).
Subsequently,
“envi-
ronmentally
sustainable
development”
was
employed
(Serageldin
and
Streeter,
1993).
Finally,
the
concept
of
environmental
sustain-
ability
was
developed
(Goodland,
1995).
According
to
Goodland,
environmental
sustainability
“seeks
to
improve
human
welfare
by
protecting
the
sources
of
raw
materi-
als
used
for
human
needs
and
ensuring
that
the
sinks
for
human
wastes
are
not
exceeded,
in
order
to
prevent
harm
to
humans”.
Goodland’s
conceptualization
of
environmental
sustainability
fits
into
the
resource-limited
ecological
economic
framework
of
“lim-
its
to
growth”.
He
also
identifies
environmental
sustainability
as
a
set
of
constraints
on
the
four
major
activities
regulating
the
scales
of
the
human
economic
subsystem:
“the
use
of
renewable
and
non-
renewable
resources
on
the
source
side,
and
pollution
and
waste
assimilation
on
the
sink
side”.
Holdren
et
al.
(1995)
define
envi-
ronmental
sustainability
by
focusing
on
its
biogeophysical
aspects.
Biophysical
sustainability
means
maintaining
or
improving
the
integrity
of
the
life
supporting
systems
of
the
Earth.
Sustaining
the
biosphere
with
adequate
provisions
for
maximizing
future
options
includes
enabling
current
and
future
generations
to
achieve
eco-
nomic
and
social
improvement
within
a
framework
of
cultural
diversity
while
maintaining
(a)
biological
diversity
and
(b)
the
bio-
geochemical
integrity
of
the
biosphere
by
means
of
conservation
and
proper
use
of
air,
water,
and
land
resources.
The
term
environmental
sustainability
has
gradually
become
commonly
established.
As
an
for
example,
the
Commissioner
for
Environmental
Sustainability
of
the
Australian
State
of
Victoria,
P.
Sutton,
defined
environmental
sustainability
as
“the
ability
to
maintain
the
qualities
that
are
valued
in
the
physical
environment”
(Sutton,
2004).
The
Environmental
Sustainability
Program
of
the
U.S.
National
Science
Foundation
for
2009
supports
engineering
research
with
the
goal
of
promoting
sustainably
engineered
sys-
tems
that
support
human
well-being
and
that
are
also
accordingly
compatible
with
sustaining
natural
systems.
One
of
the
new
journals
explicitly
focuses
on
environmental
sus-
tainability:
Current
Opinion
in
Environmental
Sustainability
is
the
first
scholarly
journal
reviewing
and
synthesizing
research
on
sus-
tainability
and
environmental
change.
It
provides
its
audience
with
a
new
vehicle
to
provide
timely
updates
on
science
and
the
research
programs.
It
focuses
on
six
areas:
Climate
systems
(covering
climate
and
climate
change,
climate
risk
management,
mitigation
and
adaptation).
Human
settlements
and
habitats
(covering
cities,
urbanization
and
transport).
Energy
systems
(covering
energy
use,
energy
conservation,
renewable
energy,
energy
efficiency
and
bioenergy).
Terrestrial
systems
(covering
natural
and
managed
ecosystems,
forestry,
food
systems,
biodiversity
and
ecosystem
services).
Carbon
and
nitrogen
cycles
(covering
sources
and
sinks,
feedback
processes
and
links
to
other
systems).
Aquatic
systems
(covering
marine
and
fresh
water
ecosystems,
fisheries,
currents
and
biodiversity).
An
important
contribution
to
the
concept
of
environmental
sus-
tainability
was
made
by
the
OECD
Environmental
Strategy
for
the
First
Decade
of
the
21st
Century
(OECD,
2001).
The
Strategy
defines
four
specific
criteria
for
environmental
sustainability:
regenera-
tion
(renewable
resources
shall
be
used
efficiently
and
their
use
shall
not
be
permitted
to
exceed
their
long-term
rates
of
natural
regeneration),
substitutability
(non-renewable
resources
shall
be
used
efficiently
and
their
use
limited
to
levels
which
can
be
offset
by
substitution
with
renewable
resources
or
other
forms
of
capi-
tal),
assimilation
(releases
of
hazardous
or
polluting
substances
into
the
environment
shall
not
exceed
their
assimilative
capacity)
and
avoiding
irreversibility.
It
identifies
five
inter-linked
objectives
for
enhancing
cost-effective
and
operational
environmental
policies
in
the
context
of
sustainable
development:
maintaining
the
integrity
of
ecosystems
through
the
efficient
management
of
natural
resources
de-coupling
environmental
pressures
from
economic
growth
improving
information
for
decision-making:
measuring
progress
through
indicators
the
social
and
environmental
interface:
enhancing
quality
of
life
global
environmental
interdependence:
improving
governance
and
co-operation.
To
enlarge
the
list
of
the
basic
principles
of
environmental
sus-
tainability
(without
pretending
it
is
fully
comprehensive),
we
may
further
add
(Moldan,
2009):
long-term
perspective
(without
any
designated
time
limit);
understanding
of
the
non-linear
evolution
of
complex
systems
(tipping
points,
thresholds,
sudden
unpredictable
changes);
taking
feedbacks
into
account
(in
particular
the
positive
ones);
regard
for
different
scales
(in
time
and
space);
flexibility
(the
ability
to
react
to
a
changing
situation,
learning
by
doing);
key
importance
of
local
conditions;
and
respect
for
living
nature
in
general
and
for
biological
diversity
in
particular.
Further
development
of
the
concept
was
aided
by
the
Millen-
nium
Ecosystem
Assessment
Project.
Although
The
Synthesis
Report
(Millennium
Ecosystem
Assessment,
2005)
does
not
use
the
term
environmental
sustainability,
it
contributes
substantially
to
its
elucidation.
It
identifies
ecosystem
services
and
recognizes
four
categories:
provisioning
(food,
freshwater,
wood
and
fiber,
fuel,
etc.),
regulatory
(climate
regulation,
flood
regulation,
disease
regulation,
water
purification,
etc.),
cultural
(aesthetic,
spiritual,
educational,
recreational,
etc.),
supporting
(nutrient
cycling,
soil
formation,
primary
production,
etc.).
The
idea
of
ecosystem
services
can
be
broadened
by
services
provided
by
global
life-supporting
systems
(such
as
the
stratospheric
ozone
layer,
climatic
system,
hydrological
cycle,
and
global
biogeochemical
cycles),
by
goods
provided
by
the
geosphere
(mineral
resources)
and
by
three-
dimensional
open
space:
land
on
the
Earth’s
surface
and
the
space
beneath
and
above
it.
To
use
the
term
coined
by
Daily,
we
may
call
all
these
goods
and
services
nature’s
services
(Daily,
1997).
The
ecosystem
and
nature’s
services
are
jointly
linked
to
human
well-being
because
it
depends
on
them.
To
secure
well-being,
it
is
essential
to
maintain
the
ecosystem
and
nature’s
services
at
an
B.
Moldan
et
al.
/
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
7
appropriate
standard.
In
other
words,
environmental
sustainability
may
be
defined
as
maintaining
nature’s
services
at
a
suitable
level.
Pointing
out
the
indivisible
connection
between
these
services
and
human
well-being,
and
indicating
the
many
concrete
expressions
of
this
relationship
is
the
fundamental
contribution
of
the
Millennium
Ecosystem
Assessment
Project.
To
maintain
the
adequate
quality
of
nature’s
services
entails
care
for
the
systems
providing
the
services:
ecosystems
and
global
life-supporting
systems
that
may
be
called
environmental
infras-
tructure.
The
supply
of
necessary
services
is
only
possible
if
global
ecological
systems
are
in
a
healthy
state.
Concern
for
goods
and
services
provided
by
nature
means
concern
for
nature
itself,
i.e.
for
global
ecosystems
and
for
biodiversity.
Biological
diversity
is
the
most
important
element
of
environmental
infrastructure
and
an
overarching
prerequisite
for
most
of
the
services.
During
the
years
after
its
introduction
in
the
1980s,
the
idea
of
sustainable
development
evolved
from
its
rather
fuzzy
origi-
nal
notion
to
more
precise
specifications
covering
its
fundamental
pillars.
Many
important
definitions
are
now
presented
in
quantita-
tive
terms
using
different
indicators.
The
need
for
a
comprehensive
analysis
of
indicators
is
thus
obvious.
2.
Indicators
Indicators
are
popular
for
establishing
league
tables.
The
exam-
ples
do
not
pertain
exclusively
to
competitive
sports
results,
but
the
ranking
spirit
has
been
applied
to
a
host
of
other
opportunities:
university
rankings,
the
best
city
to
live
in,
the
best
hospital,
high-
est
crime
occurrence,
etc.
Also,
many
highly
aggregated
indicators,
indices
e.g.
the
Human
Development
Index
or
the
Happy
Planet
Index
have
provided
a
quick
comparison
of
countries
based
on
such
ranking.
League
tables
have
their
supporters
(since
the
nam-
ing
and
faming/or
shaming/principle
may
be
an
effective
coercive
tool)
as
well
as
critics
(the
ranking
alone
does
not
say
much
about
sustainability).
Once
sustainable
development
indicators
are
defined
they
have
to
be
“measured”
in
a
wide
sense,
by
both
quantitative
and
qual-
itative
techniques.
More
and
more
often,
availability
of
data,
i.e.
obtaining
the
value
of
sustainability
indicators,
is
not
a
problem.
The
main
difficulties
relate
to
selection,
interpretation
and
the
use
of
indicators.
In
terms
of
interpretation,
if
the
indicators
are
applied
over
a
period
of
time,
they
can
be
used
to
determine
a
trend.
Although
absolute
values
may
not
entirely
matter,
we
need
a
notion
of
what
is
acceptable.
Thus,
the
most
attractive
idea
remains
having
a
numeric
value
for
sustainability.
That
reference
value
then
gives
the
indica-
tor
meaning
and
distinguishes
it
from
raw
data
(Gallopin,
1997).
The
simplest
reference
point
is
a
baseline.
Baselines
are
start-
ing
points
for
measuring
change
from
a
certain
state
or
date.
(ten
Brink,
2007).
They
are
common
practice
and
broadly
accepted
in
such
fields
as
medicine,
economics,
environmental
quality,
climate
change
or
education.
One’s
health
is
assessed
by
comparing
actual
values,
e.g.
blood
pressure
or
blood
sugar
level,
to
baseline
val-
ues
corresponding
to
their
gender,
height,
weight
and
age.
In
the
quality
assessment
of
soil,
water
and
air,
and
on
climate
change,
pre-industrial
background
values
play
a
prominent
role.
In
all
qual-
ity
assessments
baselines
are
involved,
implicitly
or
explicitly,
and
are
the
dimension
according
to
which
the
indicator
assesses
the
subject
in
question.
A
baseline
is
thus
not
a
targeted
state:
the
tar-
get
is
set
when
policymakers
agree
upon
a
specific
target(s)
for
an
issue.
A
meaningful
reference
value,
a
target,
to
measure
distance
from
a
baseline
may
be
a
background
value,
standard
or
norm,
or
it
can
be
a
threshold
value
for
something
like
irreversibility
or
the
instability
of
a
system
(Rickard
et
al.,
2007).
The
hard
targets
are
set
through
political
processes
and
thus
become
important
policy
drivers,
while
the
soft
targets,
are
based
on
our
notion
or
knowledge
of
the
limits
involved.
They
use
concepts
such
as
sustainable
reference
values
(e.g.
sustainable
yield),
carrying
capacity,
critical
load
or
minimum
viable
population.
While
the
choice
of
hard
targets
is
normative
and
politically
challenging,
the
setting
of
soft
targets
is
associated
with
scientific
debate
and
differing
opinions.
The
existence
of
a
target
is
of
key
importance,
regardless
of
the
type
of
target.
Even
a
vague,
qualitative
target
(e.g.
reduce
the
dependency
on
imported
energy
resources.
.
.)
may
be
an
important
policy
driver
stimulating
both
research
and
policy
debate
on
the
desirable
state
of
the
issue
to
be
achieved.
The
benefit
of
specific,
quantitative,
time
bound
targets
is
then
straightforward:
The
indicators
can
be
linked
to
them
and
interpreted
clearly
on
a
distance-to-target
basis.
The
notion
of
a
reference
value
has
even
guided
an
indicator
typology
developed
by
the
European
Environmental
Agency
(EEA,
1999).
It
classified
indicators
into
four
groups
which
address
the
fol-
lowing
questions:
(1)
What
is
happening
to
the
environment
and
to
humans?
(2)
Does
it
matter?
(3)
Are
we
improving?
and
(4)
Are
we
on
the
whole
better
off?
Indicators
form
the
second
group
the
performance
indicators
comparing
actual
conditions
with
a
specific
set
of
reference
conditions.
They
measure
the
‘distance(s)’
between
the
current
environmental
situation
and
the
desired
sit-
uation,
the
target
(‘distance
to
target’
assessment).
Performance
indicators
are
very
relevant
if
specific
groups
or
institutions
are
to
be
held
accountable
for
changes
in
environmental
conditions.
These
performance
indicators
may
refer
to
different
kinds
of
ref-
erence
conditions/values,
such
as
national
or
international
policy
targets,
accepted
by
governments,
and
tentative
approximations
of
sustainability
levels.
2.1.
Is
it
acceptable?
The
EEA
(1999)
has
called
the
above
hard
targets
Policy
Target
Values
(PTVs).
They
rarely
reflect
pure
sustainability
considera-
tions,
as
they
are,
by
definition,
compromises
reached
through
national
or
international
negotiations.
The
most
frequently
used
concepts
of
environmental
sustainability
have
been
discussed
and
used
in
this
term
over
time
by
international
organizations
(e.g.
IUCN,
UNCED,
OECD,
EUROSTAT
and
WB).
It
shows
the
close
ties
between
environmental
sustainability
and
international
or
national
political
or
policy
oriented
initiatives.
Some
of
those
set
concrete
goals
and
objectives
that
have
to
be
reached
within
a
certain
timeframe
(e.g.
improving
the
quality
of
life
of
the
poor,
reduction
of
industrial
pollution,
waste
recycling).
Policy
mak-
ers
and
the
general
public
would
like
to
be
informed
about
the
observance
of
the
designated
goals
and
objectives.
Here,
the
indi-
cators
that
exploit
the
quantitative
expression
of
various
aspects
of
environmental
sustainability
become
involved.
If
quantification
is
possible
in
one
way
or
another,
the
applicability
for
achieving
the
goal
of
environmental
sustainability
is
rather
straightforward.
There
has
been
an
abundance
of
targets
of
all
types
for
various
phenomena
from
the
environmental
sustainability
domain.
Even
for
experts,
it
is
difficult
to
keep
track
of
all
regulations
and
their
specific
terminology.
Therefore,
there
have
been
initiatives
to
sim-
plify
both
access
and
understanding
of
these
issues,
such
as
the
EEAˇ
ıs
STAR
Portal,
an
inventory
of
PTVs
and
SRVs
(Sustainable
ref-
erence
values)
(EEA,
1999),
or
a
relational
database
system
that
captures
the
semantics
of
a
broad
collection
of
regulations
and
supports
non-expert
users
in
querying
the
limits
database
(Kramer
and
Spandl,
1994).
To
analyze
and
elucidate
the
role
of
targets,
we
have
focused
on
selected
sets
of
indicators
developed
and
used
by
influential
intergovernmental
organizations
indicators
for
the
UN
Millennium
Development
Goals
and
Eurostatˇ
ıs
Sustainable
Devel-
opment
Indicators.
8
B.
Moldan
et
al.
/
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
Targ et
Indicators for monit
orin
g progress
7 A. To integrate
the principles of
sustainable development into the national
policies a
nd programs and reverse the loss
of
environment resources.
-
Deforestation: F
oreste
d area as percenta
ge of land area,
1990 and 2010
-
Climate
change: CO2emissions, 1990 and 20
07
-
Ozone layer protecti
on: C
onsumpti
on of all
ozone-
depleti
ng substances, 198
6-200
8 and Montreal
Protocol’s
Multi
lateral Fund r
eple
nishment, 19
91-201
1
7.B. To reduce biodiversity loss
. To achieve
a significa
nt reduction in the rate o
f loss
by
2010.
-
Portion of la
nd area covered by forest
-
CO2emissions, total,
per capita
and per $1 of GD
P (PPP)
-
Consumption of ozone-deplet
ing substa
nces
-
Proportion of fish stocks within safe biologica
l limits
-
Proportion of total
wate
r r
esources used
-
Proportion of te
rrestrial
and marine areas protec
ted
-
Proportion of species
threate
ned with extincti
on
7.
C. To halve, by 2015,
the p
ropo
rti
on of
the p
opulati
on without sustainable access
to
safe d
rinking
wate
r and basic sanitation.
-
Proportion of populat
ion using improved drinking wate
r
resources
-
Proportion of po
pulati
on using improved sanitati
on
facilities
7.D. To achieve, by 20
20, a sign
ific
ant
improvement
in the lives of at least 100
million slum dwellers.
-
Proportion of urban po
pulati
on li
ving in slums
Fig.
1.
Goal
No.
7
from
the
Millennium
Declaration.
Source:
Adapted
from
UN
(2010).
The
Millennium
Development
Goals
(MDGs)
are
eight
global-
scale
policy
goals
to
be
achieved
by
2015
that
respond
to
the
world’s
main
development
challenges.
The
eight
MDGˇ
ıs
break
down
into
twenty-one
quantifiable
targets
that
are
measured
by
sixty
indica-
tors.
Goal
7
(to
ensure
environmental
sustainability)
includes
four
targets
and
ten
original
indicators,
plus
three
indicators
we
have
derived
from
the
MDG
2010
Report
(UN,
2010).
The
indicators
pro-
vide
information
about
achieving
these
goals
within
certain
time
periods
in
each
country
(Fig.
1).
Target
7
D
is
an
example
of
the
strength
of
quantified
informa-
tion
with
regard
to
policy
making.
When
this
Target
(to
improve
the
lives
of
100
million
slum
dwellers)
was
endorsed
in
2000,
experts
had
underestimated
the
number
of
people
living
in
substandard
conditions.
In
2003,
new
and
improved
data
sources
showed
that
the
target
would
cover
only
a
fraction,
about
10
percent,
of
the
global
slum
population.
Also,
the
target
was
set
as
an
absolute
number
for
the
world
as
a
whole,
which
makes
it
difficult
for
gov-
ernments
to
set
meaningful
country-specific
goals.
Thus,
the
target
will
require
redefinition
if
it
is
to
elicit
serious
commitment
from
national
governments
and
hold
them
accountable
for
implementa-
tion
(UN,
2010).
In
connection
with
the
European
Union
Sustainable
Develop-
ment
Strategy
(EU,
2006),
the
European
statistical
office
Eurostat
published
“2009
Monitoring
Report
of
the
EU
Sustainable
Devel-
opment
Strategy”
(Eurostat,
2009).
It
is
to
provide
an
objective,
statistical
picture
of
progress
every
two
years
towards
the
goals
and
objectives
of
the
EU
sustainable
development
strategy.
Given
these
objectives
and
targets,
the
report
provides
an
assessment
of
whether
the
EU
is
moving
in
the
right
direction.
The
selected
indi-
cators
fall
into
three
levels
of
importance
(headline,
subtheme
and
contextual).
There
are
10
priority
areas
(economic
performance,
climate
change
and
energy,
sustainable
transport,
sustainable
con-
sumption
and
production,
management
of
natural
resources,
public
health,
social
inclusion,
demographic
changes,
global
partnership,
and
good
governance);
about
half
of
them
have
indicators
directly
or
indirectly
linked
to
environmental
sustainability.
In
terms
of
targets,
the
indicators
have
been
selected
against
a
set
of
crite-
ria,
with
one
of
them
requiring
that
the
indicator
have
a
clear
and
accepted
normative
interpretation
(Ledoux,
Mertens
and
Wolff,
2005).
Eurostat
has
been
seeking
and
applying
the
proximity
to
target
method
in
order
to
ensure
the
policy
relevance
of
the
whole
assessment.
Explicit
limits
and
thresholds
are,
in
fact,
needed
even
in
analy-
ses
that
have
been
designed
to
include
other
types
of
information
without
the
necessity
of
defining
the
targets.
The
OECD
has
come
up
with
the
term
“decoupling”
and
offered
a
methodology
and
indicators
to
measure
the
decoupling
of
environmental
pressures
from
economic
growth.
This
indicator
is
a
quotient
of
environ-
mental
pressure
divided
by
an
economic
variable.
The
OECD
has
explored
indicators
covering
a
broad
spectrum
of
environmental
issues
such
as
climate
change,
air
pollution,
water
quality,
waste
disposal,
material
use
and
natural
resources,
while
another
set
of
indicators
may
be
used
for
a
decoupling
analysis
of
four
specific
sectors:
energy,
transport,
agriculture
and
manufacturing
(OECD,
2002;
OECD,
2003).
Decoupling
occurs
when
the
growth
rate
of
an
environmental
pressure
is
less
than
that
of
its
economic
driving
force
(e.g.
GDP)
over
a
given
period
of
time.
Decoupling
can
be
either
absolute
or
relative:
absolute
decoupling
occurs
when
the
environmentally
rel-
evant
variable
is
stable
or
decreasing
while
the
economic
driving
force
is
growing;
relative
decoupling
occurs
when
the
growth
rate
of
the
environmentally
relevant
variable
is
positive
but
less
than
the
growth
rate
of
the
economic
variable
(OECD,
2002).
The
evi-
dence
shows
that
relative
decoupling
is
often
achieved
in
OECD
member
countries
while
absolute
decoupling
is
less
common.
The
decoupling
indicators
convey
a
strong
message
regarding
environ-
mental
sustainability
since
they
provide
a
crucial
link
between
the
environmental
and
other
pillars,
mostly
the
economic
pil-
lar.
Their
focus
on
environmental
pressures
is
a
good
choice,
as
pressures
are
well
defined
and
easy
to
measure.
However,
sustainability-wise
the
interpretation
of
these
indicators
should
take
into
account
absolute
levels
of
at
least
the
environmental
vari-
able
(pressures).
In
other
words,
we
need
some
targets
to
show
policy
makers
if
there
is
a
threshold
for
reduction
or
a
ceiling
that
allows
a
further
increase
in
pressures.
Unless
a
particular
indicator
is
related
to
a
threshold
(i.e.
a
limit)
of
sustainable
use,
one
can-
not
make
the
judgment
that
it
shows
sufficient
relative
or
absolute
decoupling
to
support
the
conclusion
that
more
sustainable
pat-
terns
of
consumption
and
production
have
been
achieved
(CEM,
2006).
In
both
sets
of
SDIs
above
the
targets
have
important
role:
they
provide
a
value-based
framework
for
assessment.
As
external
ref-
erence
values,
they
stay
to
the
side
and
are
not
inserted
into
the
indicator
methodology.
There
may
be
one
final
target
or
a
series
of
B.
Moldan
et
al.
/
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
9
interim
targets
when
stricter
targets
have
to
be
met
over
a
period
of
time.
Another
approach
has
sought
to
integrate
the
target
values
directly
into
the
algorithm
of
the
indicator
calculation.
That
is
the
case
of
Prescott-Allenˇ
ıs
Wellbeing
Index
(Prescott-Allen,
2001)
or
the
better
known
and
more
recent
Environmental
Performance
Index
(EPI),
which
is
very
close
to
the
concept
of
environmental
sustainability.
It
quantifies
and
numerically
benchmarks
the
envi-
ronmental
performance
of
a
country’s
policies.
It
was
developed
by
Yale
University
and
Columbia
University
in
collaboration
with
the
World
Economic
Forum
and
the
Joint
Research
Centre
of
the
European
Commission
(Emerson
et
al.,
2010).
The
EPI
focuses
on
two
overarching
environmental
objectives:
reducing
environmen-
tal
stresses
on
human
health
and
promoting
ecosystem
vitality
and
sound
natural
resource
management.
These
goals
reflect
the
policy
priorities
of
environmental
authorities
around
the
world
as
well
as
the
environmental
dimension
of
MDGs.
The
quantitative
metrics
underlying
the
EPI
encompasses
twenty
five
indicators
pertain-
ing
to
the
two
objectives
above
and
six
policy
categories
(climate
change,
productive
natural
resources,
biodiversity
and
habitat,
water,
air
pollution,
environmental
health).
The
authors
linked
each
indicator
to
a
long-term
public
health
or
ecosystem
sustainability
target.
For
each
country
and
each
indicator,
a
proximity-to-target
value
was
calculated
based
on
the
gap
between
a
country’s
cur-
rent
results
and
the
policy
target.
These
targets
are
drawn
from
four
sources:
(1)
treaties
or
other
internationally
agreed
goals;
(2)
standards
set
by
international
organizations;
(3)
leading
national
regulatory
requirements
and
(4)
expert
judgment
based
on
the
pre-
vailing
scientific
consensus.
Fig.
2
shows
targets
for
indicators
of
selected
EPI
components
(Environmental
Health
and
Ecosystem
Vitality
objectives).
When
possible,
targets
are
based
on
international
treaties
and
agreements.
For
issues
with
no
international
agreements,
targets
are
derived
from
environmental
and
public
health
standards
devel-
Index
Objectiv
es
Policy categorie
s
Indic
ators
Data sourc
es
EPI
Environ
mental
health
(50 %)
Environ
mental
burden of disease
(25 %)
Environmental
burden of
disease
(25
%)
WHO
Air poll
ution
(effects on
humans) (12
.5 %)
Indoor
air
polluti
on (
6.3
%)
Wor ld
Devel
opment
Indica
tors
Outdoor air
polluti
on (
6.3
%) (urban
particulates)
Wor ld
Devel
opment
Indica
tors
Wate
r (
effects on
humans) ( 12
.5
%)
Access
to
wate
r (6.3 %)
Wor ld
Devel
opment
Indica
tors
Access
to
sanit
ati
on (
6.3
%)
Wor ld
Devel
opment
Indica
tors
Ecosyste
m vital
ity
Air poll
ution
(effects on
ecosystems) (
4.2
%)
SO2emiss
ions
per populate
d
land area (
2.1
%)
EDGAR,
UNFCCC
,
REAS
NOx
emissions
per
populat
ed la
nd
area (0.7 %)
EDGAR,
UNFCCC
,
REAS
Non-methane
volatile
organic
compou
nd
emissions per
populate
d la
nd
area (0.7 %)
EDGAR,
UNFCCC
,
REAS
Ecos
ystem
ozone (0.7 %)
Model for
ozone and
related
chemical
tracers
(Mozart
II)
Note: EDGAR d
enotes
Emissions D
atabase for G
lob
al A
tmosph
eric Research;
UNFCC
C d
enotes
UN Framework C
onvent
ion on
Climate Change;
REAS d
enotes
Regional
Em
issions Invento
ry in
Asi
a.
Fig.
2.
Environmental
Performance
Index
components,
weights
(as
%
of
total
EPI
score)
and
targets.
Note:
EDGAR
denotes
Emissions
Database
for
Global
Atmospheric
Research;
UNFCCC
denotes
UN
Framework
Convention
on
Climate
Change;
REAS
denotes
Regional
Emissions
Inventory
in
Asia.
Source:
Emerson
et
al.
(2010).
10
B.
Moldan
et
al.
/
Ecological
Indicators
17
(2012)
4–13
oped
by
international
organizations
and
national
governments,
the
scientific
literature,
and
expert
opinion.
Where
targets
could
not
be
established
based
on
any
scientific
criteria,
sufficiently
ambitious
targets
were
formulated
by
the
authors
where
all
countries
have
some
room
for
improvement.
In
some
cases,
they
may
also
repre-
sent
an
ideal
state,
such
as
zero
percent
of
the
population
exposed
to
indoor
air
pollution.
Other
targets
such
as
ten
percent
of
national
territory
under
protected
areas
recommended
by
the
Convention
on
Biological
Diversity,
represent
political
compromises.
It
is
obvi-
ous
that
such
targets
do
not
necessarily
reflect
the
environmental
performance
required
for
achieving
sustainability.
The
overall
EPI
ranking
does
not
tell
us
which
country
is
actually
on
a
sustainable